dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Getting Ready

I have rearranged my study. I have sorted out the books on the shelves that face me when I’m at work at my desk and I’ve packed away the non-writing books, replacing them with relevant writing books and book files.

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Books packed away

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Research and admin folders

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Books to inspire!

And I’m beginning to feel better – ready to get down to work again on the novel.

I popped out to the supermarket to stock up on food and met my next-door neighbour as I was going in. I had come home from a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discover that she had cut her own front lawn and then cut mine. She is slightly over eight months pregnant. Her last child weighed in on arrival at 10 lbs and she reckons this one will compete – so cutting grass astounded me. Just as well I was out! I’m sure I’d have scolded and protested!

She wouldn’t accept a lift home from the supermarket either. Walking, she said, would do her good. She preferred to be doing things. She was ready for the birth, she said. It’s time this one arrived.

And as I sort my study and lug heavy boxes of books into the storeroom, I recognise myself in my pregnant neighbour. I’m getting ready for the labour of getting Book 2 of the Mizpah Ring birthed and into the world. And like my neighbour, I’m impatient. Because it’s time!

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Day Ten: Going home

Home! After a 365 mile solo drive (if you don’t count Jesus) from the borders of Scotland down through England to Cambridge, then a sharp left turn till you almost hit the far eastern coast. Home. Whew.

And glad.

Sometimes, to paraphrase T.S.Eliot, it is necessary to take a wander back through the past and check it out and discover what it means now. And then look at where you are now and discover just how good it is – and recognise it for what it is: in my case, that where I am now is home.

Home means lots of different things to different people. I have a nomadic streak and I love new places and overnight billets – lovely hotels in locations like at Annandale Water. Waking up to beauty fills me with delight.

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View from my balcony at Annandale Water this morning

But home: that is something deeper, richer. Long ago, I put my roots down in the rich soil of Somerset, letting them go down deep – which made the pulling up when my husband died in 1994 and I had to move the more painful. I haven’t had the courage to ‘settle’ properly anywhere since then.

But driving into Westmoreland this morning, past the sign that said ‘Welcome to England’, I realised I have lived in England for 38 years. More than half my life. More than anywhere else. England is home, and Suffolk, and the town where I live, and the street, and the little house on that street with my cat waiting for me and the friend who was feeding her for me, and my church this evening, and … This all constitutes home.

And I’m glad. And grateful. And it’s time to let my little roots unfurl and go down into the welcoming soil of Suffolk. And, to mix the metaphor, it’s time for some nesting – nice things for the house to make it more ‘home’. Nice things for the garden… maybe some herbs… salads, tomatoes… food!

Home. Welcome home. At last.

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Day Three: A Scottish Sunday

It’s Sunday so today’s activities are church and a walk with my sister and her friends. The weather is grey and not warm – unlike the glorious sunshine I left behind in Suffolk! But this does not deter us. We wrap up like Arctic explorers and set out for Keiss.

What surprises me is how much of the old World War Two tank traps are left lining the beach.

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Clearly the threat of invasion was taken very seriously, and as we walk along, I’m thinking about the effect of the war on local people – and this section in the new book. All useful research!

I love little harbours so we drove round to Keiss harbour

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and found some lovely splashy waves coming in round the harbour wall!

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And then it was time for tea! And home in good time for evening church.

 

 

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Beloved voices

My mother smoked. Dad had been one of those soldiers introduced to cigarettes during the war and he had duly brought the habit home. In those early days, folk thought it was glamorous, little knowing the horrendous damage it would do to skin and lungs and other organs.

Mum had been a glamorous young woman with dark hair falling provocatively over one eye like a movie star. And she was talented. From an early age she had been in demand as a singer and I recall her beautiful voice.

But the cigarettes took their toll and her voice deepened and deepened till her beautiful voice was completely destroyed and she could barely manage to reach any notes. For someone who had loved to sing, this was purgatory indeed.

On Monday night at Bible study group, a friend gave us a very lovely gift. Instead of us reading round the group, she invited us to relax and close our eyes and listen as she read the complete passage in her lovely soft Scottish voice.

I joke that my accent strengthens after a phone conversation with my sister, then I have to tame it so folk down here in Sassenachland can understand me! Maybe it’s my accent that makes my voice recognisable – so I hardly need to say who I am when I ring friends.

And I wonder does that come across on the page? One of the delights of opening a new book in a well-loved series is that sense of familiarity with the author’s voice, like the voice of a friend.

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Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice (John chapter 10, verses 1-16). The voice of a loved one is very special. I remember once missing my beloved so much I kept ringing his office number when he was away so I could hear his voice on the answermachine message! Afterwards he commented on the number of calls where the caller had left no message!

Having given up Facebook for Lent, maybe I’ll have more time to just sit and listen out for Jesus and see if I can recognise His voice.

 

 

 

 

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Day Eighteen: Concluding time in Caithness

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Dounreay

Strangely familiar – that white dome set incongruously against a beautiful coast, stark against blue sea and blue sky. I’m now quite used to the sight of the dome at Sizewell just down the coast from where I now live, but here’s the original – at Dounreay on the north coast, west of Thurso.

My father worked here many years ago. When they were building it, we schoolkids were given tours. I even won an essay prize for a report on a lecture we’d been given on the theory and benefits of nuclear power. I have a strange memory of the title referring to a bell, a bow and a boomerang!

I was passing Dounreay en route to visit a minister friend further along the coast – my last in-Caithness catch-up before I set off again. We hadn’t seen each other for years but once again, the passage of time had made no dent in our friendship. In this era of disposable everything, it’s good to know some things do last! (By the way this is something she’s planning on preaching about on Sunday evening.)

And so this part of my trip draws to a close. It’s been great but for next time – or for those of you planning a book trip – I think the lessons are:

  1. Trust. God has organised my trip amazingly well!
  2. Trust. Bring more books than you think you’ll sell.

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3.Trust – and build in enough time to rest!

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Day Nine: Wick: Recognising what matters

Today has been a day of meeting up with friends and family that I haven’t seen for a while. In one case since 1968! It’s great to see them. And it’s delightful that so many of them are instantly recognisable and to my eye barely different from when I went away. Some have recognised me instantly. Others have said I look even more like my sister than when we were young. But some have said they wouldn’t have recognised me.

People do change though it doesn’t always show on the outside. I think I’ve changed. I hope I’ve changed. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, a lot of good and quite a lot of not-so-good, and I hope it’s made a difference – a good difference.

Coming back after so long, and thinking back from where I am now – in life and theology – I can feel pieces of the jigsaw slot into place in a new way. New pieces of information, things I just wasn’t interested in at that age, people I maybe didn’t see very clearly…

Walking with my sister and her friends yesterday, my experience was enriched by the way they noticed and recognised so many plants that I might have overlooked. And they knew the names of the plants too.

Pink purslane

Pink purslane

Water avens

Water avens

Heath spotted orchid

Heath spotted orchid

Maybe I always knew this but now I realise how important it is to really see the people in our lives, to notice them, to recognise them for who they really are, to know their names – and to stay in touch!

PS

The foodie bit! Not cake today or chocolate brownie but mackerel, fresh-caught out of the sea today and brought round to my sister’s for my brother-in-law to fillet for our supper by my friend Anne’s husband Francis. Thank you!

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Day One: First stop, Wetherby

It’s five past six and I’ve arrived at the Days Inn, Wetherby, 203 miles from home, first stop on my travels. The delightful (and young) receptionist was completely unfazed by my inability to remember my car number so I could have free overnight parking. I had to go back out and write it down!

But it’s been a good day. Not weather-wise. That’s been grey and drizzly throughout. I’ve had the car headlights on and the windscreen wipers going intermittently the whole afternoon.

But it’s been a day with lots of joy in it. First of all the Partnership service at Emmanuel Church, Bungay where I caught up with so many friends.

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The service was designed as a blessing for their retiring Methodist minister but I found it spoke to me of my setting out on something new and unknown. If I may quote the closing prayer/benediction:

We go seeing the glory of God in all the world;

We go carrying the name of Jesus to every place;

We go witnessing to the good news through the Spirit within us.

Alleluia. Amen.

One of my concerns about this trip has been the long hours of driving. A number of years ago I rather foolishly hurtled back from a trip to Somerset, doing the five and a half hours without a stop! As a result I damaged my right knee. The (younger-than-me) doctor said it was arthritis. ‘I’m not having that!’ I declared. ‘I’m not old enough!’ and was told firmly that oh yes I was!

He arranged for me to see a physio and after a consultation I was sent off with exercises, and instructions that I could only drive for one and a quarter hours before I had to stop for a break. I dutifully followed instructions and the knee seemed to have healed up. But I know how easy it is to wreck it and have been worried.

So today, I was a good girl and stopped for an apple, a sip of water and a walk around a layby after the first hour and a quarter. But when the second hour and a quarter was up and I was scanning the road for a service station with a cafe where I could have a comfort break, none hoved into view. For another three-quarters of an hour.

The good news is a) the knee seems ok

and b) at the Little Chef I stopped at, they were serving hot chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream. Nice!

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Now for something new!

I’ve got nice things to report so I’m back onto the blogosphere.

First, I’ve signed the contract for publication of my novel about the Scots fisher girls. I’ve blogged about it quite a bit – so I’m delighted to share the news. There will be an e-book (all major versions) as well as a paperback. And the final title? When the Boats Come Home. More details of publication date, price etc. when I know them.

This is it!

This is it!

And yes, I know… I worked in book publishing all my working life. Ten of my books have seen the light of day so far. But I freely confess: I am so excited!

The other thing? I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. I’ve registered and pledged to write 50,000 words of a first draft of a new novel (starting tomorrow 1st November) by the end of November. I know which book idea I want to get started on and I reckon this is the way to stop the dithering and havering, and just get down to work. Oh and again I confess: I’m excited about it!

And glad that lots of friends from Association of Christian Writers and here in Suffolk are going to be doing NaNoWriMo too. Hopefully, we’ll encourage one another so we all reach the finishing line! Pretty much like the Christian life, really. Encouragement matters! So thank you to everyone who has encouraged me along the way. I’m grateful!

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What’s in a name?

Names matter. I should know – I’ve had several. Some I liked, others I was only too happy to divest. For the record, my favourite is Stewart. I’m not that keen on the Dorothy bit, though having plain Mary as a middle name is a redeeming factor.

Last time’s blog seemed to hook many readers on the title and spurred lots of discussion on the Ryme of the Ancient Mariner. Quite a far cry from concerns about a husband with dementia in a  care home.

And that’s an interesting name: ‘care home’. I was having coffee today with the friend who introduced us to Norwood House. We’re both convinced it’s pretty much the best place for miles around… because the staff genuinely care. And it’s that genuine care that is making such a huge difference to me and my husband.

After Sunday afternoon’s unhappy visit – and learning what lessons I could from it – I dropped by for lunch yesterday. A good idea. Food gives us something to talk about as well as focus on and eating it fills any gaps in the conversation. Staff come by and chat. And afterwards there was a live show of songs from the 40s, so I could take my leave without guilt.

As we sat in the lounge drinking our coffee, I was able to observe the other residents – chatting together, looking at newspapers, and being assisted from wheelchairs by cheerful young women who were clearly extremely well trained. The atmosphere was positive and cheerful – residents  were obviously relaxed and well cared for.

I’m telling this to publicize the fact that there are good care homes out there with excellent staff who really care. It eases the burden on relatives.

But it is still a burden.

As another wife said quietly to me as we signed out yesterday, ‘It’s hard’ and it is. It isn’t abdication. We’re not set free. It’s simply another stage along the road. A new variation on the same tune. But if you’ve found a real care home, that tune is sweeter and maybe a little easier to sing!

Meanwhile it’s still raining, so here’s a cheer-up pic for today!

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Water, water everywhere

I used to live on the Somerset Levels, halfway between Taunton and Yeovil. And yes, there was a certain amount of flooding every year but nothing compared to what people are experiencing at the moment. Today I spent the morning with friends in Bungay, 15 minutes north of here. My friend’s house is high up with stunning views of the Waveney valley. And the floodwater is encroaching here too.

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There’s something scarily inexorable about water. Once it escapes riverbanks and drainage channels, there seems to be no stopping it.

I feel a bit like that about my husband’s dementia. I visited him yesterday afternoon. To continue the water/flood metaphor, it was as if the water had been safely/neatly channelled in pleasant manageable channels on my last visit. I’d even enjoyed the previous visit (though maybe the glass of white wine provided with my lunch helped!) – but this time it was as if I had been one of those overconfident Charlies who attempt to drive their cars through deepish water and get surprised when they’re swamped. And yes, this last time, I got swamped. And stupidly surprised.

It’s now almost 24 hours since the start of my visit. How could I forget it takes me 36 hours to recover? Just because this home is a much nicer place, a really good quality specialist provider of the care my husband needs, it doesn’t take away the fact of his dementia nor its destructive impact on us both.

But I’d forgotten. And as a result I have to sit in my swamped car and await rescue. My friends do their level best and I am grateful – for the lovely hugs, the phone calls, the Facebook messages, the thoroughly excellent caring advice. But there is no Fire Brigade or big farmer’s tractor coming to pull me out of the flood. The flood is where I am. All I can do is wait for the waters to go down. And they will. Till the next time.

One of the big problems for both the Waveney Valley and the Somerset Levels is that the land has become so saturated by so much rain for so long, that it takes very little more to create disaster rather than minor inconvenience. And it’s the same for any of us stuck in long-term situations where our emotions and our ability to cope went under a long time ago.

David Cameron promises dredging – when it’s safe enough – as a preventative for next time. Unsurprisingly, Somerset folk aren’t holding their breath!  For those of us who know that the waters aren’t going to go down – maybe for years – there are few answers.

I am a Christian. A woman of faith in Jesus Christ. But I’m finding it tough, I admit, to believe in a God of love and mercy who wants only the best for my life – while, frankly, I feel like I’m in a living hell. And as I look at my husband – and the other people in the home who are further down the dementia road than he is – my faith is sorely tested. Where is the mercy in this?

I can see the love – for these people are being looked after as lovingly, as kindly, as well as possible. And amazingly, I can feel God’s love for me, alongside me, right in the middle of the floods.

Stuff happens. He gave us free will and we made a hash of it. As a result there are horrible diseases, broken families, bad things in our world, and few if any of us manage to avoid at least some of them.

But God is still there. And He cares. He really does. So as I sit in my swamped car in the flood I drove into, I reckon the only thing to do is shift over into the passenger seat and let Him take the wheel.

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.’ ” Isaiah 43:1-2a

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